Quill and Quire

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Me and Mr. Mah

by Andrea Spalding, Janet Wilson, illus.

British Columbia author Andrea Spalding’s latest is a sensitive tale about gardens, growing sunflowers, the importance of memories, and the rewards of friendship.

The narrator, Ian, is a prairie boy who, when his parents separate, moves with his mother to the city, where an elderly Chinese man named Mr. Mah lives alone next door. After peeking through the fence at his gardening neighbour, Ian follows suit and uses a trowel to plough his bleak backyard. In time, he finds a gift of a packet of sunflower seeds tucked through the fence. Unknown to Ian, Mr. Mah also looks through fences and knows a lonely boy when he sees one.

The two become friends and eventually Ian shows Mr. Mah his prairie souvenirs and talks about his dad. Mr. Mah reciprocates, sharing his own lifetime treasures, including a photograph of his recently deceased wife. When Ian and his mother move at summer’s end, he promises to visit Mr. Mah. But Mr. Mah falls and breaks his hip and is taken to a nursing home, so it takes Ian some digging before he finds him and reaps the reward of their friendship.

Award-winning illustrator Janet Wilson contributes significantly to this second collaboration with Spalding (their first was Sarah May and the New Red Dress). She presents spare, lush, detailed scenes with equal impact. With two portrait-like pictures, she effectively conveys the intimacy and significance of memories.

Me and Mr. Mah is an attractive and appealing story. With well-managed themes of family change, relocation, and intergenerational and intercultural friendship, it’s worthy of space on home, school, and library bookshelves.